Washington, DC - In the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, WWF, the global conservation organization, is calling on governments to support the devastated communities by ensuring that efforts to rebuild their livelihoods are environmentally sustainable. The call comes as a UN conference on the vulnerability of small island developing states gets underway in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean -- the area severely impacted by the tsunami.
"This is one of those opportunities in which conservation can truly serve people," said World Wildlife Fund (WWF)Vice-President Bill Eichbaum. "An important lesson of this disaster is that one of the best defenses against natural disasters is nature itself."
"Healthy ecosystems can save lives," said Isabelle Louis, Director of the WWF Asia Pacific Program. "Places that had healthy coral reefs and intact mangroves, which act as natural buffers, were less badly hit by the tsunami than those where the reefs had been damaged and mangroves ripped out and replaced by prawn farms and poorly planned beachfront hotels."
For example, in the Maldives, it is estimated that the damage from the tsunami could have been much worse if the government's policy of protecting the network of coral reefs that shield the islands from the open sea had not been so diligent.
As humanitarian needs for food and shelter are met, WWF calls for long-term green reconstruction efforts. They should capitalize on natural defence mechanisms, appropriate coastal zone planning, rehabilitation of habitats, and restoration of sustainable livelihoods.
"Poorly planned coastal development has compounded the impact of the tsunami," said Mubariq Ahmad, Head of WWF Indonesia. "It is vital that we don't make the mistakes of the past. We need to rebuild in a sustainable and safe way."
WWF is recommending that coastal developments are in the future not built within a safety zone from the high-tide mark, and coastal-use planning and policies, including natural disaster risk assessments, are carried out. It is also vital that coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs, mangroves, marshes, and forests that buffer the impact of tsunamis are rehabilitated and restored. While WWF recognizes the need for local forests to be felled for emergency housing and workplace needs, it is strongly advocating that timber for long-term reconstruction efforts should be harvested from responsibly managed forests. Indiscriminate logging could create other calamities in the future, such as landslides and flooding.
In the short term, it is also imperative that the fisheries sector is reconstructed responsibly as it is the primary source of livelihood for the thousands of communities affected by the tsunami. The global conservation organization warns that if devastated communities are not adequately resourced to regain immediate access to fishing, there is a real risk that opportunistic fishing fleets will move into the region, and further compound their current plight.
- Thirty-seven island nations will be attending the UN conference on Small Island Developing States from 10-14 January in Mauritius to discuss challenges from natural disasters to climate change and threats from HIV/AIDS. The need for better preparedness in small islands against natural disasters such as tsunamis and cyclones will be discussed at this meeting. WWF is sending an open letter to key participants at the UN conference, offering assistance and support for a green reconstruction for all nations affected by the tsunami.
- Coral reefs and mangroves are biologically rich ecosystems that can provide a significant source of income for local communities to rebuild their lives.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF), known worldwide by its panda logo, leads international efforts to protect the diversity of life on earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF works in more than 100 countries around the globe.